The movement of the Word of God began as wisdom told from one person to another, one generation to another, from fathers to their children and grandmothers to their grandchildren. It shaped their understanding of the world and their place in it. Eventually, early forms of written language moved from pictures to alphabets with increasing complexity and precision. And with it, from the very inception of the written language, came the desire to faithfully hand on the Word of God. What began as etching things in stone or jotting them down in wet clay eventually moved to papyrus. While plentiful and light it was not as enduring, and the precious writings wore through over time. Soon though the scribes moved to velum, to the stretched and smoothed-out skin of animals. Oh, here they could write out long scrolls to ensure the Word of God would be handed down from generation to generation. Whole schools of scribes developed dedicated to the primary task of ensuring the true Word of God continued to be passed on.
These ancient texts were prized possessions. Their value was beyond accounting. People travelled great distances to read, examine, and copy the Word of God. Over time they began to illuminate the texts, add hand-drawn figures in the margins, doing what they could to elevate this amazing, life changing gift. They held in their hands the Word of God, just let that sink in for a moment, how rare and special that was. Then, in the 1400’s, a man named Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press where, for the first time, typeset works could be massed produced. What was one of the first and certainly the most widely desired works to be printed? That is right, the Bible. With the printing press literacy rates began to rise and eventually men like Martin Luther began the task of translating the Word of God into the language of the people. Soon the Word of God was accessible to the average person. Children could study its words, parents could grow in their knowledge and understanding.
All these years, all this time and dedication to the transcribing and handing on of the Word of God and today we all have it in our homes. We have Bibles sitting on shelves collecting dust that we hardly even think twice about. We have the Word of God curated and displayed in easy-to-use apps on our phones. We can get the Word in almost every language known to man. When it comes to English, we have an option for every situation. We have the Shakespearean sounding King James version, the more comfortable New International Version, the English Standard Version, and the New American Standard to name just a few. We have paraphrases and extremely lively modern translations and overly academic ones. You can even find the Bible done as a graphic novel if you want.
Yet, at times I wonder if all this easy access to the Word of God may have allowed for a certain amount of complacency. That is, do we still view it as something of great value? Do we still honor the Word, or is it just another thing we possess? If we treat the Word as our possession it changes things. It might be a subtle change, but it has big ramifications. For, if the Word is our possession, that means we stand over it. The Word of God becomes a book of service to our needs. We use it as a tool to get us out of a jam, to provide guidance when we are lost, comfort when we are sad, and wisdom when we are confused. We wield it as we see fit, when we feel like using it, otherwise we just leave it on the shelf until we need to call upon it again.
A much better example of how we treat and interact with the Word of God is found within the Word itself. In fact, it is in the stories leading up to our celebration of Christmas where we really find some beautiful depictions of faithfulness. Makes sense, since Christmas is the celebration of the Word made flesh and dwelling among us. Take Mary for instance. Her confession of faith is one of the most profound in Scripture. Luke’s Gospel tells the story of the angel Gabriel coming to Mary. “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” he says. And she is rightly terrified. It is not every day a heavenly messenger appears to you, and his message is a bit terrifying. “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:30-33).
That sounds great and all, fantastic even, as long it is not you he is speaking to. She is engaged to be married to Joseph. She is a virgin. How can she have a son, much less a son like this, a Son of the Most High God? Her world is about to be torn apart and flipped upside down. She does not own this Word of God. She does not control it. She did not ask for it or seek it out. This Word of the Lord came to her and whatever vision she had for her future, whatever she thought her life was going to be like, it is radically different now.
Yet, her response to this news is simply stunning. It is not some long, well-rehearsed speech, or a last-minute attempt to barter a better deal with God. No, it is a reckless and bold trust that removes any safety net of her own design. She replies to the angel Gabriel and says, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Let it be to me according to your Word. The Word of God is everything to her, it will take a hold of her and change her life and she willingly receives it. She gives her, “Amen,” her assent to what the Word of God is and promises to do.
That is amazing. Her example ought to inspire us to shake off the complacency with which we engage the Word of God. It is not our possession, our tool to wield as we see fit. It is a Word which comes to you, it changes you, it turns your world upside down. For what does the Word of God declare about you? What does it have to say to you as you go about your day, as you live and move and breathe in this age? For starters it brings condemnation, and it calls for repentance. The Word of God is the measure of your unfaithfulness. The Word works as the plum line which marks and highlights your deviations from the will of God. You were created in His image. You were called to live according to His standard, and you have failed, you have gone astray, your thoughts and desires are soiled with sin.
But the Word speaks something else to you as well. As you confess your sin, as you see there is nothing in your hands by which you can redeem yourself, that Word speaks about what God has done and continues to do for you; each one of you. He loves you, forgives you, and has sacrificed Himself for you. The Word of God has born your sins, died in your place, and risen triumphantly from the grave. Jesus says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me” (John 5:39). The Word then calls you, brothers and sisters. It hails you as saints of the Most High God and heirs of eternal life. The Word of God you have sitting on your shelf or accessible through an app on your phone, that Word opens to you the gates of eternal life, for it directs you to Christ alone.
And Christ says to you, “Repent and believe the good news!” What more can we say then, but what Mary has taught us, “Let it be to us according to your Word!”